By Sultan Ali Haider
In times of political turmoil, the spotlight is on the Constitution. Influential figures champion upholding the Constitution while accusing opponents of undermining it. The crucial question that arises is why the Constitution is so important, especially in the Pakistani context.
The principles of the rule of law and the Constitution are indispensable for ensuring the longevity and stability of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. These principles establish a framework for governance that promotes prosperity and justice in society.
The rule of law asserts that every individual and institution, including the government, is subject to the law and must act in accordance with it. Renowned philosophers, political thinkers, and lawyers have emphasized the rule of law as a fundamental component of a functioning society. Aristotle believed, “It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens.” The rule of law ensures that no individual or entity is above the law and provides a mechanism for resolving conflicts and disputes fairly and justly.
The Constitution of Pakistan, adopted in 1973, serves as the foundation of the nation’s legal system. It outlines the structure of government, the fundamental rights of citizens, and the limits on government authority. Pakistan’s founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, envisioned a democratic Pakistan that embodied the essential principles of Islam while also protecting the rights of its diverse citizenry.
In a broadcast talk to the people of the United States of America on February 26, 1948, he said: “The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of men, justice and fair play to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state —to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims —Hindus, Christians, and Parsis—but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”
The rule of law and the Constitution are deeply interconnected and essential for the longevity of the Pakistani Republic. The rule of law functions as a safeguard for the Constitution, and vice versa.
Adherence to the rule of law fosters trust among citizens and in the government, promotes social cohesion and harmony, ensures that the government cannot wield arbitrary power or violate citizens’ rights, and creates a system of checks and balances that protects citizens from the abuse of power. Moreover, the rule of law promotes economic development and social progress by providing a stable environment for businesses and individuals to thrive.
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor highlighted the importance of these principles, stating, “The success of the American experiment in self-government is due, in no small part, to the ongoing stability of the rule of law and our fidelity to the Constitution.” This observation holds true for Pakistan and other nations that aspire to create just and democratic societies.
However, merely having a Constitution and laws in place is insufficient. These principles must be actively upheld and respected by all citizens, institutions, and branches of government. As Pakistan faces new challenges, it is crucial to remember the importance of adhering to the rule of law and maintaining fidelity to the Constitution.
Educating citizens about the Constitution and the rule of law is essential for fostering an informed and engaged population. An independent and impartial judiciary is vital in upholding these principles, serving as a check on government power and protecting individual rights.
The media plays a key role in promoting the rule of law and the Constitution by reporting on relevant issues, ensuring government accountability, and supporting an open and transparent society. Political leaders must lead by example, demonstrating their commitment to these principles and cultivating a culture of respect for the rule of law and the Constitution.
In conclusion, the rule of law and the Constitution are essential foundations for a strong and lasting Pakistani Republic. Taking the Constitution seriously is crucial because it provides the framework necessary for a just and democratic society and ensures the protection of citizens’ rights. The Constitution establishes a system that promotes equality, justice, and fairness for all, regardless of their background or beliefs.
Gaming or changing parts of the Constitution for political gains undermines its core purpose and threatens the stability and integrity of the nation. Such actions can lead to increased corruption, erosion of citizens’ trust in the government, and potential abuse of power. When the Constitution is manipulated for personal or political benefits, it weakens the very fabric of the nation and can result in long-lasting damage to the democratic institutions and principles that the Pakistani people value.
The words of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor serve as powerful reminder that the success of any nation depends on its commitment to the rule of law and its fidelity to its Constitution. It is the responsibility of each citizen, institution, and political leader to respect and protect these essential foundations for the betterment of Pakistan and its future generations.
The author is a corporate & business strategy consultant with an MBA from LUMS. He tweets @SultanAliHaider